Jazz has a unique element that separates it from the other musical genres. It relies heavily on improvisation allowing the musician to express themselves and demonstrate their technical prowess through their solos. During improvisation the musician does not have time to think or engage the rational part of the mind. Rather they must immerse themselves in the music, let their intuition guide them and rely on the muscle memory and musical knowledge that they developed through countless hours of practice.
In order to reach peak performance, the soloist must let go, embrace spontaneity and ‘go with the flow.’ Known for his spontaneous prose, ‘Beat Generation’ author Jack Kerouac writes about this sought-after mental state in his seminal book On the Road. Contrasting the self-conscious musician to one who is connected to the music he writes,
Prez has the technical anxieties of a money-making musician, he’s the only one who is well dressed, see him grow worried when he blows a clinker [a wrong note], but the leader, that cool cat tells him not to worry and just blow – the mere sound and serious exuberance of the music is all he cares aboutJack Kerouac, On the Road
Whether it is through music, art, or being ‘in the zone’ whilst playing a sport, we all strive to be in what psychologists call the flow state. Completely immersed in what one is doing, focused on the task at hand and free from the mental chatter that dominates our day to day lives. Coined by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow states involve,
being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one……… Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
To achieve a state of flow one must walk the line between discipline and surrender. That is, they must engage in an activity that is sufficiently challenging and rewarding utilizing their skills developed in a particular area. However, to achieve creativity and perform at an optimal level, one must be able to let go of conscious thought, expectations and the fear of failure. Only through quieting our mind and surrendering our self to the experience can you enter a state of flow.
Research demonstrates that when an individual is improvising key areas of their brain are less active, namely the default mode network and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The default mode network is the part of the brain that is active while someone is day dreaming, and is associated with one’s ego – constantly critiquing one’s thoughts and actions. Moreover, the DLPFC is the region responsible for ‘conscious self-monitoring.’ Decreasing activity in these two regions of the brain allows us to be more courageous, confident and push our limits to become more creative and discover new possibilities.
In an age of constant digital distraction and ‘busyness’, many of us find it difficult to set out the time to engross ourselves in one task. But why should we care about flow? Research proves that there are significant benefits of entering flow states. A study conducted by Harvard professor Teresa Amabile noted that individuals reported higher levels of creativity, happiness and productivity three days after they experienced a flow state.
Humans have always sought to push the boundaries of our existence, to discover new frontiers and learn more about the possibilities of human consciousness. We engage in activities such as rock climbing, mountaineering and extreme sports which seem may seem illogical to the rational mind. However, as dangerous as they may be, these are all attempts to enter a state of flow. To temporarily forget about the mundane aspects of modern society, to dissolve one’s ego, and as the famous rapper Eminem preached to “lose yourself in the moment.”
Source Image: Pexels Free Photos
This article was originally posted on my personal blog: alifeofvirtue.ca
15 thoughts on “A Jazz State of Mind: Entering the Flow State”
Excellent article Andrew and an accurate description of jazz. As a jazz musician myself, I appreciate that 😎
I love jazz\music metaphors for explaining concepts in philosophy and psychology 🙂
You wrote the words I’ve been trying to find, Andrew. Flow state says it perfectly. Trance sounds too metaphysical but is close.
When I’m on a good gig with Todd Fulginiti and a couple of other good performers I sometimes get that flow state. Sometimes it goes a step beyond that and it becomes like a four person Oija board, when we listen and follow each other. And when the song comes to an end, we look at each other and it’s like, Wow!
I leave it to you to find a better analogy then Oija.
Thanks for the shout out Bob! Hopefully we can get into that flow zone when we play together next week 😎
good luck you two 🙂
Interesting post! Finding Flow by Csikszentmihalyi is a great book!
Indeed, it’s one of my favourites 🙂
I love this post, Andrew!! As a side note, it reminded me of something Ryan Holiday talks about in one of his books – how the stoics teach you to practice, practice,
practice your craft – all those hours you mentioned – then when it’s time to play, you don’t consciously think about it. It just flows out (no pun intended 😀). That’s similar to what you alluded to, which I love because it embraces discipline (ie: you’re not getting up and blowing with no effort behind it), but it also embraces the flow (which is the fun part).
I love Eminem quote “lose yourself in the moment”. It explains very well the state of flow. Very inspiring article Andrew!
Thank you as as always 🙂
“Jazz has a unique element that separates it from the other musical genres. It relies heavily on improvisation allowing the musician to express themselves and demonstrate their technical prowess through their solos. During improvisation the musician does not have time to think or engage the rational part of the mind. Rather they must immerse themselves in the music, let their intuition guide them and rely on the muscle memory and musical knowledge that they developed through countless hours of practice.”
This explains why I love Jazz so much, It is the element of surprise during the improv sections that I love the most.
I manage to get in the flow every time I start writing because I forget that I should eat, pee, get up and move my supremely arthritic bones, or smell a rose or two. But, what a fun way to get lost in a world of my creation!
Thank you for this post!
love these words thank you for your insight:)
This is such a beautiful post Andrew – I love the way you’ve connected jazz and flow and mountain climbing – it’s like the essence of what makes being human and I feel so inspired! I definitely needed a boost today so I extra appreciate this post 😊
I’m not a jazz musician, but I am the mom of one who is getting his doctorate in Jazz Studies/Studio Arranging at the University of Miami. This description is amazingly accurate from what I’ve seen in his experiences, and I can certainly translate it to my (corporate) job in knowledge management and social learning. “Flow” is the axis of innovation and experience.